With less than a month to go for the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese authorities are showing increasing signs of nervousness over possible acts of terrorism by the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan (IMET) either in the Olympic venues or in Xinjiang or in any of the Central Asian Republics or in Pakistan. This nervousness has been reflected in the forcible closure of nearly 40 allegedly illegal mosques in Xinjiang, more arrests of alleged terrorists and the execution of the death sentences awarded by the courts in the past against alleged Uighur terrorists. The Chinese do not seem to have taken into consideration the danger that such acts by themselves may provoke the Uighur dissidents to retaliate against them.
2. The forcible closure of the so-called unauthorised mosques seems to have been triggered off by fears that some of these mosques may turn out to be the Lal Masjids of Xinjiang. The Lal Masjid of Islamabad became the base of the activities of pro-Al Qaeda and pro-Taliban Pashtun student extremists last year, forcing Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to order the Army commandoes to raid the Masjid in July last year to wrest control of the Masjid from the extremists. He ordered this raid after the students kidnapped some Chinese women working in local beauty and massage parlours and accused them of leading an immoral life.
3. The Chinese have been closely monitoring the situation in the tribal belt of Pakistan and having frequent interactions with the Pakistani authorities in order to prevent any act of terrorism mounted from the Pakistani territory before or during the Olympics.
4.On July 9,2008, the Chinese authorities announced the public execution of two Uighurs whose names (Chinese version, not their original ethnic names) were given out by them as Muheteer Setiwalidi and Abdulwaili Yiming after they had been convicted by a Kashgar court on November 9,2007, on charges of separatist activities, attending a terrorist training camp and manufacturing explosives. According to the announcement, the court had awarded three other Uighurs suspended death sentences and sentenced 12 other Uighurs to various terms of imprisonment. All of them were accused of being members of the IMET. They were reported to have joined the IMET in August 2005 and were arrested by the Police in January,2007.
5.The public announcement of the sentences awarded to the 17 Uighurs came a day after the police of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, forcibly entered a flat to arrest 15 Uighurs, who were also projected as members of the IMET. Five of them were killed by the police when they allegedly resisted arrest.
6. While the observance of the birthday of the Dalai Lama on July 6,2008, passed off without any incident in Tibet and other Tibetan-inhabited areas of China, there were reports of unrest and protest meetings by Tibetan nomads in the Lithang area of the Sichuan province when the Chinese banned the holding of the traditional annual horse-racing festival by the nomads. The observance of the festival in the beginning of August last year led to acts of violence when the local police arrested some nomads for shouting slogans praising the Dalai Lama. The Chinese apparently did not want to face the risk of a similar incident this year just a few weeks before the Olympics. They played it safe by banning the festival. The People’s Liberation Army was able to bring the protests under control without difficulty, but 600 troops have been sent to the area to reinforce the local security forces.
7.Meanwhile, 116 Tibetans arrested during the anti-Beijing uprising in March last are now being tried by courts in Lhasa on charges of arson, robbery and attacks on public servants. Forty-two of them have already been sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. The trial of the remaining is continuing. The Chinese authorities have not ruled out the possibility that some of the remaining may be sentenced to death and executed.
8. There have been no reports of fresh arrests in Tibet. Though the Chinese officials of Tibet have kept up their patriotic re-education classes, they have been a little more careful to avoid excesses against the Tibetans because of the widespread support for the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan cause in the international community. At a time when the movement for a boycott of the opening ceremony of the Olympics has stopped with many world leaders, including President George Bush, re-affirming their decision to attend the inaugural function, the Chinese have been avoiding any ham-handed action against the Tibetans.
9. They are not observing a similar caution in respect of the Uighurs, who do not have an iconic leader like the Dalai Lama. Moreover, by projecting every Uighur dissident arrested as a member of the pro-Al Qaeda IMET, which is treated as a terrorist organisation by the US, the Chinese have been able to ensure that their actions in Xinjiang do not become the focus of international scrutiny in the days preceding the Olympics.
10. The Chinese are really nervous about the dangers of an act of jihadi terrorism during the Olympics. The international community, which too is nervous, has been giving the benefit of doubt to the Chinese and is not criticising the action taken by the Chinese against the Muslim Uighurs in the same manner as it criticised their action against the Buddhist Tibetans.
11. The anger in Xinjiang and in the Uighur and Uzbek communities in Pakistan and the Central Asian Republics over the Chinese actions and the perceived silence of the international community because the victims were Muslims might increase the dangers of an act of jihadi terrorism before or during the Olympics either by the Uighurs or by their co-religionists.
12. Meanwhile, the second round of the resumed dialogue between Chinese officials and two representatives of the Dalai Lama in Beijing in the first week of July,2008, did not see any forward movement. Though the Chinese agreed to a third round in October next, the Dalai Lama’s reprsentatives have come back with the impression that there has been no change in the Chinese position of refusing to discuss with the representatives of the Dalai Lama their demand for genuine autonomy in Tibet. They feel that the Chinese are just biding their time till the Olympics are over and that once the games are over, the Chinese will go after those in Tibet and other areas, who continue to support the Dalai Lama.
13. The Chinese have been firm that there is no question of any dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s representatives on the political set-up in Tibet and on any political role for the Dalai Lama and that the dialogue will be confined to the Dalai Lama’s role as a religious leader. According to them, the Tibetan diaspora will not have any political role, which will be confined to the Tibetan members of the Chinese Communist Party.
( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India,New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: email@example.com )